Seoul offers Tokyo a deal: Create joint fund to compensate victims of wartime forced labor

By Park Han-na
  • Published : Jun 19, 2019 - 18:29
  • Updated : Jun 19, 2019 - 21:17

South Korea has approached Japan with a proposal to support the Korean victims of wartime forced labor by encouraging companies in both countries to take part in joint fundraising efforts, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

“This idea has been raised that it is desirable to enable reconciliation between the concerned parties by offering compensation to the victims whose lawsuits have concluded, by creating funds voluntarily offered by companies from both countries, including the accused Japanese firms,” the ministry said in a press release.

Mr Lee Choon-shik (center), a victim of forced labour by Japan during its colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, is surrounded by supporters and relatives outside the supreme court in Seoul, on Oct 30, 2018. (AFP-Yonhap)

The proposal follows sustained protests by the Japanese government against recent Korean Supreme Court rulings in favor of several Korean plaintiffs who were forced to work in Japanese-owned factories and mines during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

In 2018, the court ordered Japanese companies Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal to compensate the Korean victims or their survivors.

Under the proposal, Korean and Japanese firms would voluntarily chip in to raise about 1.36 billion won ($1.15 million), an amount equivalent to the combined judgments against the two Japanese companies.

The ministry said it would be up to the participating companies to decide how much to contribute. It has not yet been decided which Korean companies would take part in the fundraising, it added.

“Should Japan accept this, (Korea) is willing to consider accepting the consultation procedure (for diplomatic talks) that Japan has requested,” it added.

Japan insists that all compensation-related issues were settled under the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations Between Japan and the Republic of Korea, under which Japan provided $500 million in economic assistance to Korea as a nation, rather than paying formal reparations to individuals.

Diplomatic ties between the two neighboring countries further chilled in January when a Korean court issued an order authorizing the seizure of some of the Korean assets of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal after it refused to follow the top court’s orders to compensate its victims.

Following the January court decision, Japan called for bilateral diplomatic talks over the issue, invoking the treaty, which stipulates that disputes related to it be resolved primarily through diplomatic channels.

After failing to receive a response from Seoul, Tokyo made another request on May 20 to set up an arbitration panel involving a third-country member.

The Korean government did not respond to the second request by the Tuesday deadline. The 1965 treaty calls for a response within 30 days after any such request is made.

A Foreign Ministry official said the government had taken three factors into account in proposing the joint fund.

“We suggested the proposal based on the principles that we needed to respect the Supreme Court’s decision, respect international norms and consider the interests of the plaintiffs,” he told reporters on condition of anonymity.

By Park Han-na (